Can the feelings of AWE lead to changes in life?

Awe moment

Emotion is part of everyday life and it is innate in organisms. Emotion comes from the Latin word ‘emovere’ which means to move. It influences an individual’s thoughts and behavior through physiological and psychological changes. Rasa simply means to taste or savior, it is allpervasive and almost the same as emotions in Indian scriptures. It refers to nine basic emotions or rasas as defined in “The Rasa Theory” in Natyashatra written by Bharata Munni, he recognized eight major and thirty-three minor or transient emotions. The major rasas are considered to be more common and durable (sthayi) than other emotions which were considered to be transitory (vyabhichari) also known as minor emotions (Rao, K.R., 2012). Join us in questioning and understanding the transformative power of awe in shaping the course of our lives.

The Rich Tapestry of Emotions in Indian Aesthetics

The nine basic rasas or emotions are Shringara (mood based on love and passion), Roudra (mood based on anger or irritation), Hasya ( mood based on subjective emotion laughter or cheerfulness), Veera (mood based on strength, stamina, and courage), Bhayaanaka (mood based on fear and anxiety), Bheebhatsya (disgusting mood based on antipathy, hatred), Karuna (mood based on pitying, compassion/ kind-hearted), Adbhutha (mood based on astonishment, wonder or surprise) the influential commentary on Natyasastra by Abhinavagupta helped in deriving ninth rasa Shantha (mood of peace, tranquility, and detachment) was added later (P S, Sreeja & G S, Mahalakshmi, 2017; Misra. G, n.d.; Wilke. A., 2018). Vibhava, Anubhava, and Vyabhicaribhava play an important role in elucidating rasa. Vibhava is similar to the situational aspect, Anubhava to the physiological aspect and Vyabhicari is a series of diverse transient emotions that feed the dominant emotion (Cheriyan, L. B., 2017).

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Sentiments and Emotions in Aesthetic Experience:

Further, bhava is sentiment; existence and mental state both can be considered as a subset of it. Bhu means to be and bhava means which brings about being. Bhava means to become, it is a state of mind while rasa is the aesthetic essence that results from the bhava, and it carries no meaning without rasa (Misra. G, n.d.). Is bhava (sentiment) the same as rasa (emotions)? There is a significant difference between them. Bhava is a mental attitude that is created through the existence of the emotion, whereas emotion is a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements.

It is a thought and cognitive aspect that has been influenced by emotion (rasa). Bhava (sentiment) is the link between cognitive and physiological aspects with the social and cultural aspects, not primary emotions but are highly organized. A variety of emotions linked up to an object or idea construct would constitute a particular sentiment. The bhava of astonishment (vismaya) is evoked by the aesthetic mood of adbhutha, which is equal to awe sentiments and emotions respectively (Rao, K.R., 2012).

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So what is Awe?

Awe is a fleeting and transformational emotion, but very little is known about this. In beginning, two major psychologists have provided a complete description of it McDougall (1910) and Maslow (1964). McDougall explained admiration as the binary compound of wonder and power, the definition of admiration has expanded and changed in the past 100 years. He defined awe as a trinity compound adding fear to the two components of admiration (i.e, wonder and power). Abraham Maslow is well known for his description of peak experiences and listed 25 features of it. That includes disorientation of time and space, ego transcendence, feeling passive, humble, beautiful, feeling receptive and passive, a sense of dichotomies and polarities disappearing, and feeling of being lucky, fortunate, and grace. Many of these features are experienced in awe and emphasis transformative aspects of peak experiences (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).

The Profound Impact and Diverse Manifestations:

In early 2000 it was also known as spiritual emotion. Awe is an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, and wonder elucidated by something grand, sublime, or extremely powerful. It is characterized by perceived vastness (the sense of what one has encountered as gigantic, outstanding, and so on) and the need for accommodation (changes in the understanding of the world) (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). A very significant example of awe in Bhagavat Gita is the feeling experienced by Arjuna when he had Lord Krishna’s Vishwaroopa Darshanam (Goyandaka., J, 2018). Different other examples where the sentiment of awe is aroused are gazing at the stars, childbirth, and so on.

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Awe can be elucidated by various stimuli from materialistic to supernatural things (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). It is one of the fewer studied emotions and recent empirical studies have indicated its influence of it in multiple areas. Awe has been shown to influence time perception (Rudd et al., 2012), self (ego), identity, curiosity, environmental behavior (Wang et al., 2019), interpersonal relationship, and prosocial behavior (Li et al., 2019; Piff et al., 2015), and spirituality (Keltner & Haidt, 2003).

Neurophysiological Insights, and Mindfulness

Awakening of awe is considered as a humanistic-existential or existential integrative psychology that emphasizes cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary openness, the dimension of awe stresses the puzzled apprehension and appreciative wonder of that openness (Schneider, 2011). In recent days, studies have identified significant changes in neurophysiology when experiencing the sentiment of awe (Guan et al., 2018; Shiota et al., 2007). A study indicated that awe can be experienced at any place at any point of time when one goes inwards through mindfulness (Amster. M & Eagle. J, 2020), from the perspective of the Indian scriptures (Bhagavat Gita, 29th verse of chapter 2) this is one of the best ways to experience the awe and self-actualize (Goyandaka., J, 2018).

Furthermore, a wide range of studies is required in these lines to support the earlier works. One throbbing question is how it would be if individuals experienced awe frequently in their day-to-day life?

The Timeless Impact of Awe

Earlier studies have suggested that the experience of awe enhances the perception of availability of time and promotes individuals to involve in prosocial behavior (Rudd et al., 2012). For example, the time perception of Arjuna during the awe experience was very different from an individual’s perception of time (Goyandaka., J, 2018). Time perception is a subjective experience or sense of time as an individual measurement. It is the fundamental element of human awareness. Time is rooted in living systems, the perception, ability to make sense of time, events around, and ultimately the sense of self is shaped by time perception that is looped with memories, past experiences, thoughts about the future, and expectations (Di Lernia et al., 2018).

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The perception of increased availability of time promotes individuals to involve in prosocial behavior, helps them to take steps towards their goals, and may help enhance physical and mental well-being. The experience of awe induces calmness and patience but what leads to the experience of awe is a big question as multiple things and events lead to awe, these aspects make it an abstract construct and difficult to measure (Rudd et al., 2012). As mentioned earlier, various stimuli induce awe, especially when perceived to be divine (Goyandaka., J, 2018; Shiota et al., 2007).

As a whole, the much-to-be-explored awe sentiment has various benefits in an individual’s life. This could be a great tool to enhance one’s life and facilitate self-knowledge.

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